Scanner Darkly, a - Linklater doesn't know Dick
| For those of you not familiar with Philip K. Dick, he is a science fiction writer whose writings inspired the cyberpunk genre and have spawned a number of film adaptations, some more faithful than others and some more successful than others. Films like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report have their roots in his work.
Unfortunately, with the sole exception of Blade Runner these films have not captured the spirit or breadth of his stories and the latest, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly is no exception.
Linklater, who crafted the brilliant Before Sunrise/Sunset films, the surprisingly fun School of Rock and the completely overrated Dazed and Confused returns to the rotoscoping technique he used in the disappointingly dry Waking Life (whose main value is in its revisiting of the characters from Before Sunrise). This is where the actors are filmed in live action and then their images are animated over to produce a “trippy,” fluid feeling. It worked especially well in Waking Life to create a dream-like world. However, here its use is a little less purposeful.
One of the failings of the A Scanner Darkly adaptation is that Linklater never successfully creates the world that he relies on. Despite the rotoscoping the film feels very typical. In fact, there were many times when I questioned the use of rotoscoping. Why is this film animated? They never really take advantage of the possibilities. We never believe we are in the world they are trying to establish and therefore the film feels a bit “put on” or forced.
Some of that forced feeling may come from the poor performances of the leads. Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder have never been considered strong dramatic performers and here they play off each other, each highlighting how bad the other is. With stronger actors, the film may have had more of a chance but casting Keanu doesn’t evoke The Matrix on its own. Most of the time he seems more Bill and Ted.
Also, A Scanner Darkly drops the ball on a number of the themes from the text. The paranoia is never truly felt. It is ham acted by the cast but we feel outside of it all, like we are simply watching and therefore comfortable and able to laugh at the silly drug addicts on the screen. The film never creates a sense of panic in its audience or get us into the world enough to feel the fear the story needs to convey its messages.
Instead we watch, disinterested, wondering why we should care about what’s going on. Dick’s work should get under out skin and make us question what’s going on not only on the screen but in our “real” world. A Scanner Darkly doesn’t get us there.
I am not a stick in the mud who feels that the book is always better than the film but this is one of those times when the muddy sticks are right. Reading Dick would be a better experience than watching Linklater’s animated adaptation.